Crickets stirred the night air with their songs as I sat on the porch and listened to them argue — again.
“We can’t afford for you to keep spending like this.”
“It’s one night with my friends! You’re trying to put the blame for our financial ruin on me?”
I sighed and put my face in my hands. I hated hearing my parents fight, and tonight was the last time I planned to sit around and listen. Kicking at every rock in my path, I speed-walked down the driveway and into the neighborhood. I was able to relax a little once I left my house behind, but depression sank in. Home wasn’t safe and secure anymore. I had to hide from my parents’ wrath, though they never directed it at me, and money was making our household crumble.
Suddenly, I pulled my mind back into the present, my skin starting to crawl. The world around me was silent; even the cricket song was gone. I started walking faster. My ears caught the gentle clink of footsteps. Whirling around, I scanned the darkness, but there was nothing there, not even a stray cat.
“It’s nothing,” I whispered into the silence. “It’s just my imagination.”
I turned around and nearly screamed. A boy stood in front of me, his hand extended. There was a funny expression on his face — not a smile, not a frown, just a knowing sadness.
“I’m Jason Paige,” he said.
I managed to blurt out my name, then, “How did you — ”
“Can we walk?” He gestured towards the road.
Too stunned to do anything else, I nodded agreement and we strolled deeper into the neighborhood. As we talked, I lost my fear and enjoyed conversing with him. Hours passed; we walked into the next neighborhood, and I barely noticed.
Until my watch lit up with the time: 2 a.m. “Shoot! It’s so late. I have to head home, Jason.”
“I’ll walk you back,” he said.
We were quiet on the way back, until we reached the end of my driveway. He stopped, looked me deep in the eyes, and whispered, “Never wander the streets alone at night.”
I blinked at him, confused, but he was already walking away. I gasped.
The back of his shirt was covered with still-dripping blood. He was leaving a morbid Hansel-and-Gretel trail of red drops behind him. I opened my mouth to call him back, but my mother’s voice interrupted me.
“Get inside, young lady! Where have you been? What have you been doing?”
I had no explanation, and slunk up the stairs to bed, where it took me an hour to fall asleep.
The next morning, I joined my parents for breakfast, scraping my chair loudly against the floor to face a bowl of soggy cereal. My father shook his newspaper, frowning.
“Do you know some guy named Jason? He was about your age. Lived around here.”
My spoon froze halfway to my mouth, and a cold shiver sped up my spine.
“He was murdered last night,” my father continued. His frown deepened. “Some bullies along the YM street. About ten thirty, it says here.”
It was him. It was Jason. The blood, the whispered warning, the sadness in his eyes… I had met the murdered boy just hours after his death. I quickly faced my cereal to hide my tears.